|Nebraska appears to be on rise under Pelini|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 19 August 2009 12:42|
Unlike his predecessor, he knows and embraces the history of the program he took over.
So he knows that what his first Cornhuskers team accomplished would have elicited little more than a pat on the back, if that, in the Bob Devaney-Tom Osborne era.
``We're not in the business of celebrating nine-win seasons at Nebraska,'' Pelini said.
Understandable, considering that the Cornhuskers strung together 33 consecutive seasons of at least nine victories from 1969-2001 and won five national championships.
Pelini's first season.
With wins in six of the last seven games, including a thrilling 26-21 Gator Bowl win over Clemson, all signs point to the Huskers becoming relevant again on the national scene.
Nebraska, the Big 12 North favorite, has its share of potential flaws - quarterback, receivers, linebackers among them. But fans, many of whom wear ``In Bo We Trust'' T-shirts, are convinced Pelini is the right man at the right time.
Pelini refuses to get caught up in the excitement. He's repeated through preseason practices that the team has a long way to go to meet his expectations, let alone match the level of the powerful squads of yesteryear.
Remember, the Huskers are 5-19 against The Associated Press Top 25 since beating Oklahoma in 2001. The highest-ranked opponent they've defeated the past seven seasons was No. 20 Michigan in the 2005 Alamo Bowl.
``You know, we won't be satisfied until we win them all, until we're playing for a national championship,'' Pelini said. ``How close we are to that, I don't know. I believe we have enough resources, enough talent to compete with everybody on our schedule. I think we will be a better football team. How that plays into wins and losses, we'll see that in December.''
i - teams that beat the Huskers in Lincoln last year - and trips to Baylor and Kansas could spell trouble. The Huskers also play Oklahoma and Texas Tech at home.
Rob Zatechka, a member of the 1994 national title team's ``Pipeline'' offensive line, said that even though Nebraska is an improving team, that schedule has him worried.
``Nebraska is very much primed for a sophomore slump under Pelini,'' he said. ``I don't mean that as having a bad year. I think if they get nine wins this season, it's going to be a great year.''
Pelini can count on the fans' support. They showed up en masse and had to stomach games in which Callahan's teams weren't even competitive. They'll stretch Nebraska's sellout streak past 300 games this season, an ongoing NCAA record that dates to the Kennedy administration.
Pelini will have a long leash as a result of his good first season, said Steve Glenn, an offensive lineman in the late 1970s and past president of the Nebraska letterman's club.
``I don't know if anyone would feel bad if we got beat this year as long as it's by a better team,'' Glenn said. ``If we get beat by effort, then I think people want heads to roll. That's how we got beat with the former regime.''
The 41-year-old Pelini is building for the future by emphasizing elements of Nebraska's past under Devaney and Osborne.
The defense, which put up the worst numbers in program history in 2007, is attacking again and features one of the nation's marquee players in nose tackle Ndamukong Suh.
The offense is a question mark with quarterback Zac Lee making the transition from No. 3 on the depth chart to starter.
But then there are the intangibles.
``We've gotten back to the basics of attitude, effort and believing in what you're doing,'' said Husker Sports Network radio commentator Adrian Fiala, a Nebraska linebacker in the 1960s. ``I don't know if that was around here the four years the other staff was here.''
Pelini said his first task was to build trust and make his players believe that they could win.
``They were like a beaten-down child,'' he said.
A pivotal point came in early October, after a 52-17 loss at home to Missouri. Moments after the game, Pelini stood before the media and took full responsibility for the loss, saying that he didn't give his players the best chance to win.
The bond between players and the coach strengthened.
``He proved he's going to be 100 percent with you,'' Suh said.
Pelini simplified his schemes, ratcheted up the blitzing, and the Huskers ended up second in defense in the high-scoring Big 12.
raska's rapid improvement.
``It's just great fundamentals - being physical, being great on defense,'' he said. ``That's what he stands for.''
The chain of events that started Nebraska's fall to irrelevance can be traced to the end of the Osborne's Hall-of-Fame coaching career. The Huskers were on an all-time high, going 60-3 from 1993-97 and winning three national titles.
Osborne retired at 60 on the condition that Solich be named his successor. The winning continued - Solich went 31-7 with one Big 12 title his first three seasons - until the last of the players recruited under Osborne were gone.
After going 9-3 in 2003, Solich was ousted.
Pelini, the defensive coordinator, was named interim coach and he led the Huskers to an Alamo Bowl win over Michigan State before being sent packing by Steve Pederson, who replaced Bill Byrne as athletic director in 2003.
A protracted coaching search ended with the hiring of Callahan, who had just been fired as Oakland Raiders coach.
Under Callahan and Pederson, a Nebraska native and former Huskers recruiting coordinator, the program lost touch with its storied past and continued to fall from the ranks of the elite.
Trying to go back to the future, Osborne was hired as athletic director two years ago. He fired Callahan and hired Pelini as head coach.
has embraced the culture that grew out of the Devaney-Osborne eras, one that emphasizes physical play and strives for domination.
``It's about putting on the pads and representing that 'N' the right way,'' he said.
Some old-timers say Pelini is the second coming of Devaney, who took over a downtrodden program in 1962 and within 10 years won back-to-back national titles.
``In terms of being very straightforward, expecting a lot, demanding a lot of physical, tough football, there are a lot of similarities,'' Osborne said.
Now, the hope of the Husker faithful is that Pelini can deliver the same kind of results.
``I think they're starting to feel the momentum that we had at the end of last year,'' Pelini said of his players. ``I think they're starting to understand what they can become as a football team and where this football program needs to be headed. They also know there's a lot of work in front of us to get where we want to be.''